BUCKTOWN — A disabled dog is learning how to walk with a new wheelchair, thanks to a Bucktown restaurant that raised $400 to replace one that had been stolen.
R.J. Seidel, 57, had described his state of mind as "heartbroken, completely down and hating people" when an important package containing a wheelchair for his dog, Nirah, disappeared from his front porch within 20 minutes of its delivery on Jan. 31.
Nirah, an 11-year-old Rottweiler mix that suffers from hip dysplasia, is unable to feel her hind legs due to nerve damage.
"She has such limited freedom in her legs. I was thinking this would be such a relief for her and for me," Seidel said of the two-wheeled cart that is designed for animals with rear limb weaknesses and disc problems.
Seidel, who suffers from lower back pain, carries his 70-pound dog down the steps each time he walks her and holds her backside up in a donated harness sling, so that her hind legs do not drag on the ground.
Jeanne Roeser, owner of Toast Restaurant at 2046 N. Damen Ave., put out a donation jar at her restaurant's Bucktown and Lincoln Park locations after a waiter had noticed the posters Seidel plastered all over the neighborhood offering a reward for the stolen chair.
Using the money given to him by Roeser, Seidel said he placed a wheelchair order with Eddie's Wheels about six weeks ago and the new chair arrived last week.
According to Seidel, Eddie's Wheels sells "a more sophisticated chair" — made of lightweight aluminum with the same rubber used on trail bicycle wheels — than the original one he'd ordered from a different manufacturer.
While the first day or two was "tough" for Nirah, Seidel said it was ultimately squirrels at a nearby park that compelled Nirah to want to move on her own and attempt to chase after the rodents, even if it meant moving up a slight incline.
Seidel said reactions to the new chair have been mixed.
"Most people won't say anything, it's like when you see a person in a wheelchair you look away, don't want to stare," he said.
As Seidel had papered the neighborhood with flyers, some people have been coming up to him to ask if he was the guy they "saw the signs for," too.
"It's an obvious thing, I guess. Not everyone walks a dog in wheelchair, it's a sight," Seidel said.
On Thursday, Seidel said a van that transports people with disabilities had just dropped off an elderly woman with a walker as he and Nirah were walking by.
"The woman was stunned and said she had never seen anything like that. She said, 'God bless you,'" Seidel said.
Seidel sent a video of Nirah using the chair to Roeser and described the restaurant owner as "a very wonderful person."
"If I was faced with having to use that harness any longer I am not sure what I would have done. My lower back would be so sore just from holding [Nirah] up, I couldn't always stand afterward," Seidel said.